By Mark Atkinson for MSN Autos
And the Ganassi Racing powerhouse wins once again. The undisputed heavyweight champion of the Grand-Am sports-car world put on a clinic of hard and clean driving, working your plan and the benefits of intense pre-race preparation. When the team's lead car crossed the finish line at 3:30 pm local time at Daytona International Speedway, it cemented its reputation as the winningest team in decades. This year's Daytona 24 win was CGR's fifth out of 10 attempts, and lead driver Scott Pruett's fifth overall victory, a feat that ties him with legendary Porsche driver Hurley Haywood.
Pruett's Daytona teammate Juan Pablo Montoya was tasked with bringing the 01 BMW-powered Riley home during the final stint, and did so despite mounting pressure from second-placed Max Angelelli in a Corvette DP. Montoya's gap over Angellelli was about 22 seconds at the end of 24 hours (plus one lap) of racing, which is pretty impressive, although other years have been one by significantly less time. The defending champs from Shank Racing fielded the same five-driver lineup as last year, but suffered a broken suspension piece early in the race and went seven laps down trying to fix it. In the end, they fought back to third place, but obviously without the mechanical issues would have been right into the mix with their Ford-powered Riley.
In GT, Porsche had dominated in qualifying taking the top-four spots on the grid, but by the end of 24 brutal hours, couldn't place higher than fifth... Audi took a one-two victory with its more-generously-supported R8's, a first for the manufacturer in Grand-Am. It might have been a podium sweep for Audi had the Rum Bum Racing R8 not run out of gas late in the race. That gave the Toronto-based AIM Autosport Ferrari 458 with Emil Assentato, Nick Longhi, Anthony Lazzaro and Canadian Mark Wilkins a well-deserved podium place.
The new GX class for more experimental and environmentally friendly racecars basically saw a trio of well-proven Porsche Caymans outlast the three brand-new never-raced Mazda6 SKYACTIV entries. The Mazda's 2.2-litre turbo-diesel engines were a first in Grand-Am, but proved fragile over the race. Mazda says it planned the Rolex 24 to be one giant test and the car can only improve from here.
Another Porsche legend David Donahue was the lead driver on the GX-class-winner Cayman from Napleton Racing, while Vancouver-based Bullet Racing with Canucks Darryl O’Young and Karl Thomson finished second.
Plenty of other Canadians in the race, including Paul Tracy, Alex Tagliani, James Hinchcliffe, Sylvain Tremblay, David Empringham, Michael Valiante, Dave Lacey, JF Dumoulin and Paul Dalla Lana.
There seemed to be fewer yellow-flag periods because of silly driving this year and more from general wear-and-tear or unproven parts. However, moving into morning, a giant bank of fog hit the track, forcing the race to run under yellow for around 90 minutes until conditions improved.
For full results, check out the Grand-Am page.
Anyone else watch the race? Enjoyable? I can't wait to see how it'll shake out with the additional cars in the merged ALMS/Grand-Am series.
Photos courtesy Grand-Am.